The following is a guest post by SoloPR weekly twitter chat colleague, Judy Gombita. A Canadian Public Relations professional, she is also this blog’s first international guest blogger.
Many people had primary or secondary school teachers who left an indelible mark and provided unique life lessons; I was blessed to have several such guiding lights as I evolved into adulthood.
One was a wonderfully inspiring and creative, enthusiastic and somewhat eccentric English teacher named Mrs. Rusty Ross (no, she didn’t have red hair). Ostensibly, her incredibly popular class was on Shakespeare. But amongst our (often self-absorbed) teenaged selves, we referred to it as The Class on Life. Definitely we studied Shakespeare—with a rigour and comprehension that proved excellent preparation for my first-year university course a few years later. But the real contribution Mrs. Ross gave us was illustrating how Will’s own understanding of the world, in particular people and their ambitions and motivations regarding relationships, really weren’t very different from current times.
And just like William Shakespeare created new words and understanding of human nature, so did Mrs. Ross gift us. For example, how relationships with people scale, from early acquaintances to friendships.
Evermore inserted into my lexicon was her novel word and intermediary concept: “friendlies.”
According to Mrs. Ross, your friendlies are more than acquaintances, but haven’t reached the status of fully bloomed, time-tested lasting friends. You know, the “for life” kind of friend.
Channelling Mrs. Ross when it comes to online relationships
I’m a huge proponent of the power and possibilities of social media, particularly for info sharing, networking and cultivating relationships. But I also characterize myself as a social media pragmatist. Recently, I contributed Teasing out the potential of Twitter chats, Part I and Part II to commpro.biz. In fact, it was through #solopr (one of my “featured” chats) that I met Marvellous Mel, proprietress of this captivating blog.
I respect and very much like everything I know about Mel—her smarts, integrity, sector expertise, warmth, people skills and sense of humor. Yet in my mind at this stage I still classify Mel as a “friendlie” rather than a friend.
Simply because we haven’t known each other long enough to test the long-term strength of our online alliance. Yes, we’ve moved large amounts of our conversations offline, sharing more personal information and comparing thoughts, joined networks on LinkedIn, Circled one another on Google+, etc. Despite geographical challenges, we hope to meet face to face at some stage. Not once has a touch point with Mel given me pause.
But it’s still early days.
An analogy I often use (I believe I’m the originator, but if I unconsciously co-opted it from someone else, it’s unintentional) is that relationships are like slowly peeling an onion. Most of the time an onion’s layers are fresh, firm and sweet smelling. But every now and then you peel an onion where you hit a brown and soggy layer—maybe even a bit musty and slimy. The question is whether the onion is mainly good (after a bit of judicious editing, talks or negotiations) or if it should be unceremoniously tossed away as largely unusable, i.e., not worthy of the work or consumption experience.
If you travel or live with people you quickly learn how their onion peels out. But online relationships are different. It’s a lot trickier finding out how authentic people are regarding their online personas: how much of what they share can be trusted, ego, their core values, how they treat people (online and off) and so on.
And of course, this works both ways.
Peeling into my thesis a bit more
Recently I’ve been openly critical about how fast people are to append the “friend” and “trust” tags in the online sphere. I believe we need to slow down online friendships and trust and stop devaluing these time-taking concepts.
A notable example: automatically curating blog posts of “tribe” mates into Twitter (even if oh-so-virtuously manually clicking the send button). Forgive me if I think it’s a bit musty and slimy when robo-curation perpetrators suggest we “trust” that their “friends” of three or so months produced posts warranting our valuable reading time. Why should I have faith in their curation decisions in regards to me, when the majority of people observed I’d classify as online acquaintances, not even friendlies?
When this objectionable practice of automating trust first impinged on our collective consciousness, Mel independently voiced the exact reaction as me (as did #solopr’s founder, Kellye Crane).
The fact that our tingly onion sense was the same moved Mel another step up the ladder from friendlie to friend, because critical thinking and articulating objections against perceived dodgy behaviour are things I value.
Offering up my onion for perusal
When Mel lobbied me to write a guest post on her blog, I was touched.
As thanks for trusting I’d contribute something of value, I decided to gift Mel’s space with some personal evolutionary history and a unique word and analogy—concepts I hadn’t fully gelled together or introduced in any other blog post: Mrs. Ross’ definition of friendlies, how relationships are like peeling an onion, plus a need to slow down online friendships and trust.
My hope is that these reflections help move me another step up her friendship ladder.
Some final appeels (sic)
Whether in your professional or personal life, lasting relationships take time; people who work in public relations certainly are cognizant of this fact.
By all means, explore possibilities in the online realm and make lots of new acquaintances. And if all the bytes are feeling right, proactively move into the friendlies phase. But take time to build alliances; maybe even pause to compare and contrast them with your offline friendships.
And never take time away from nurturing relationships that were earlier peeled and stood the onion sniff test of time.
Judy Gombita is a Toronto-based public relations and communication management specialist, with more than 20 years of employment and executive-level volunteer board experience, primarily in the financial and lifelong learning nonprofit sectors. She is the co-editor and Canadian contributor (since 2007) to the international, collaborative blog, PR Conversations. Find her on Twitter.